Mostly Mozart finale, Avery Fisher Hall, New York

The Mostly Mozart Festival was supposed to end with a bang over the weekend at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Actually two bangs.

The ambitious valedictory programme should have been introduced on Friday and then repeated, presumably with climactic fanfare, on Saturday. But as a cruel fate – and nasty Hurricane Irene – would have it, the ultimate finale had to be cancelled. Blame the emergency shutdown of the city’s mass-transportation system.

Sadly, the would-be second-nighters missed what must have been one of the best concerts of the summer. Louis Langrée, the no-nonsense maestro in residence, turned out to be in top form on the first, and only, night. He led a delicately balanced programme that started with the taut intricacies and melodic serialism of Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, continued with the hum-along indulgences of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and ended with the noble glories of the Mozart Requiem.

In each of these disparate challenges, Langrée sustained clarity and expressive impact without dawdling over minutiae, without resorting to dynamic exaggeration, without imposing excessive sentiment. He inspired exceptionally cohesive responses from his orchestral ensemble – sad that the players won’t be reunited for a year – and, in the Mozart, from a virtuosic chorus that fears no contrapuntal test: the Concert Chorale of New York (trained by James Bagwell).

Aided by a spiffy mini-ensemble and the sensitive tenor Joseph Kaiser, Langrée unravelled the compact knots of Stravinsky’s dirge canons, anno 1954, with elegiac poise. In the overfamiliar Schubert symphony he favoured propulsion over histrionics yet never slighted pathos. In the Mozart mass he produced grandeur without grandiosity. He also enjoyed the advantage of an extraordinary vocal quartet.

Indecently talented at 21, the Sakhalin soprano Julia Lezhneva made a memorable US debut, rising to the loftiest flights with silver-bell purity and apparent ease. Kelley O’Connor’s well-focused mezzo-soprano served as a suave counterforce. Joseph Kaiser shaded the tenor solos elegantly, also eloquently. Best of all, Morris Robinson, whose deep and dark bass provided a constant rock-solid foundation, rolled through “Tuba mirum” with wondrous amplitude and endless breath.

Incidental intelligence: what’s in a title? As noted in an earlier review, Jane Moss is billed as Ehrenkranz Artistic Director of the Mostly Mozart Festival. And Louis Langrée is heralded as Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director. So much for the charitable joys of conspicuous sponsorship.

Lincoln Center

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